ST. PAUL — Minnesota state lawmakers are gearing up for a tough legislative battle in the wake of ex-police officer Derek Chauvin's guilty verdict for the murder of George Floyd, with Republicans saying justice was served in court and Democrats saying the verdict was only a first step.
Floyd's family, Black community leaders and lawmakers of color say the jury's second- and third-degree murder and second-degree manslaughter convictions on Tuesday, April 20, hold Chauvin accountable for Floyd's May 25 death, but there's more work to be done to achieve true justice.
They said Minnesota is now in the national spotlight for its historic racial inequities, and the Legislature needs to take action to make policing, educational attainment, health care outcomes and homeownership more equitable for Minnesotans of color.
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House Ways and Means Committee Chair Rena Moran, D-St. Paul, at a Wednesday afternoon, April 21, news conference, said that "yes, we feel a sense of relief for this one case," but "this is bigger, so much bigger than that."
"It is important that we as lawmakers ... understand that the legally sanctioned systemic racism of decades and centuries ago still matter today. They are still happening today," Moran said. "We know that there’s a legacy of public policy decisions that serve to reinforce inequalities in our justice system and there’s a legacy of resistance to advance civil rights."
The Minnesota House of Representatives was set to debate a police accountability and transparency proposal late Wednesday, April 21. Members of the People of Color and Indigenous Caucus there authored legislation that would make police bodycam footage more readily available to family members of those injured or killed by law enforcement, establish citizen oversight councils to hold police departments to account and end qualified immunity.
The package appeared likely to pass through the DFL-led House, where leaders had said it would be a priority this legislative session. Rep. Cedrick Frazier, D-New Hope, said at a Wednesday news conference that the bills "should not be controversial. These are commonsense things."
But GOP Senate leaders won't promise to get the measures past the finish line, instead only committing to "fact-finding" hearings in their chamber — not necessarily passing bills into law — instead prioritizing the state budget.
On the Senate floor Wednesday, Senate Majority Leader Paul Gazelka, R-East Gull Lake, said Tuesday's verdict was evidence that "we have a process that works" — a claim at which Democrats balked later that day.
“I still am not saying we will definitely do more police accountability this next four weeks. There may be something — I’m not saying we will not — I just know that we have to pass the budget bills,” Gazelka said. “As we watched the verdict yesterday, I don’t think anybody can say that justice wasn’t served and so we have a process that works, and then we have things that we have to be willing to look at as we move forward.”
In response Wednesday afternoon, Moran said that for those who "have been part of a privileged population ... it’s hard for you to see beyond that."
"Systemic racism is real. It is the foundation of America and we have to address that. We cannot move forward unless we know the history," she said. "If it’s not you, what do you do about it? Do you think about it? Do you feel the pain? I would say, 'No.'"
Gov. Tim Walz on Tuesday evening said he'd put up his remaining political capital to help pass the proposals through the divided Statehouse, and said he is unafraid to name and shame the GOP lawmakers holding things up. But he didn't say if he'd hold off budget discussions until the measures came up for a vote.
The divided Legislature agreed upon a set of police accountability bills a little more than a month after Floyd was killed, though activists and members of color said at the time that the bills didn't go far enough. A second round has not been taken up for committee hearings in the Republican-led Senate.
"I would argue we took one step back from the ledge today, but we’ll be right back on it again if we don’t do this," Walz told reporters hours after the verdict. "I will convene the question, I will burn my political capital on this. I have tried to not bring the partisan side of this. But if there are those legislators who choose not to make these changes, I will use the platform that I have to make sure that Minnesotans know who's holding up the progress that Minnesotans want."